A board game for 2-5 players by Leo Colovini, published 2000 by Winning Moves
These comments copyright 2002 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated February 18, 2002

Escaping Pirates!

In Cartagena, the players take the roles of 17th-century pirates escaping from a Spanish prison at Cartagena on the Spanish Main (modern Colombia). The cards in the game show various objects vaguely associated with pirates: daggers, old-style hats, pistols, bottles (presumably of rum), skulls and skeleton keys. There is a sloop waiting to carry the escaping pirates to freedom. At that point, any relationship to the theme ends and it becomes an abstract game.

But it's good light abstract game that plays tolerably well at all levels from 2 to 5 players. It's fairly short, extremely easy to learn and play, and we pull it out as a light filler fairly often - often enough to warrant a review.

You get 102 colorful cards showing the objects mentioned above plus an arrow card we never use (somewhat cutesy art, but tolerable), six board segments which are double-sided and can be joined together to create the full board in thousands of ways, a cute little cardboard sloop, 30 wooden pawns in five colors, and rules and example sheet in both German and English.

The board segments show an underground tunnel - your escape rout from prison. Laying all the segments together creates a long, winding tunnel leading to the sloop. Each board segment has the 6 symbols shown on the cards, each with a different pattern from the others. The boards have four 90-degree bends in them so you don't have line them up straight across a table. Once you set the boards up randomly, they might show a bottle, then a key, then a hat, etc., all the way from the dungeon where the pirate pawns start to the sloop representing escape to Tortuga in the Caribbean.

Set the boards up, put all the pawns in the game off the starting space (one set of 6 pawns for each player), deal 6 cards to each player, pick a start player and you're ready to begin. Oops - almost: you have to decide whether you're playing the Tortuga version or the Jamaica version of the rules. Unless you're a masochist, I highly recommend you play the Jamaica version. Trust me on this.

Basic Course of Play

On your turn you take up to three actions. There are only two types of actions, so it's a very simple game:

  • play a card and advance a pirate,
  • move a pirate backward and draw one or two cards.
That's it. You can repeat an action up to three times in your turn: play three cards, for example, or have three pirates move backwards (or the same pirate move backwards three times). Or some combination, in any order you want. And order makes a big difference in this game! Occasionally you'll even pass your third action, as doing anything would help the player after you more than it does yourself.

When you play a card, select one of your pirates and move him to the next unoccupied symbol on the board that matches the symbol on the card you just played. For example, if you play a Hat card, you look for the next open Hat space. If the Hat space on the first board is occupied, skip it. If the Hat spaces on the boards two through four are also occupied, skip all those. Move directly to the Hat on the fifth board in this case - very fast movement, indeed! Remember that each board has one each of the six symbols, so there are only six Hats on the whole board. If all the Hats ahead of you are occupied, playing a Hat allows you to move directly to the sloop.

When one player gets all six pirates on the sloop, they win the game.

Moving backward allows you to draw cards. Since you only have six cards and you have six pirates to move all the way to the sloop, you're going to have to pick up cards to move them very far. There can be no more than three pirates on a single space, and the only way there can be more than one is by moving backwards - moving forward you always skip over occupied spaces.

When you fall back, you stop at the nearest space behind you that has one or two pirates, regardless of symbol. If there was one pirate there when you started to move backwards, draw one card. If there were two pirates there when you started to move backwards, draw two cards. Falling back counts as one of your three actions - you could now use those cards drawn as further actions in the same turn.

That's the game: take three actions, playing and drawing cards as required, and try to be the first to get your six pirates onto the sloop.


There are some interesting strategies possible in the game, simple as it is. One is what we call Roads and another we call Looting. (These are our terms, not official terms.)

You create a Road by playing lots of the same card. If you play three Daggers, for example, we say you're using the Dagger Road. The first card moves the first pawn one board, the next card moves a second pawn to the second board, and the third card moves a third pawn to the third board. This would be fine if you were playing solitaire, but you're not. So you can't really simply do that: you'd actually be creating a Road for your opponents to take advantage of! If the next player has three Daggers, he suddenly has pawns on the fourth, fifth and sixth boards, for example, compared to your first, second and third.

So the trick is to use Roads, but not leave them for others. The ideal way to break a Road is with a two-card Loot.

Looting is maximizing your card drawing, and trying to minimize it for your opponents. It works best in combination with Roads, but should be taken advantage of when the occasion arises, Road or no Road. If you're contributing to a Road - say you've got one pawn on the third Hat when five Hats are occupied - it would be smart to break that Road. Use that pawn to fall back and Loot. But if you fall back to a single pawn, you're only getting one card, and setting it up for your opponent to fall back to that space and draw two cards. So try to fall back to two pawns as often as possible - or have two different pawns fall back to the same space, building a three-pawn space that can't be Looted, drawing three cards while you're at it. (One for the first pawn falling back to one pawn, and two for the next pawn falling back to the same space.)

You can't always optimize your turn, but with good thought and an occasional lucky guess as to what cards your opponents are holding, you can do pretty well. It's strategy, but it's fairly light strategy, appropriate for a family filler game.

Make mine Jamaica!

So far I've only talked about the Jamaica version. What's the Tortuga version I urged you to avoid? Simple: in the Jamaica version I prefer, all players' hands are secret and the draw pile is facedown. In the Tortuga version, all cards are face up, including the first 12 draw cards. (Use the arrow card to show which end you draw from.) This turns a light, fast-paced game into a brutal analysis paralysis. "Let's see, he's got a Pistol, so if I build a Pistol Road, he can use it. But she's got three Hats, so I can't leave my piece on that Hat. And if I fall back and draw I'll only get a Key, leaving her to get two more Hats - no, that's deadly, I can't do that ..." And so on. Each turn takes a long time, and the game crawls. If this sounds like fun to you, go for it. Just please don't ask me to play with you!

Why Wouldn't You Like This Game?

The Jamaica version may be too light and luck-bound for some people, while the Tortuga version may be too slow.

Some people call the game Hare & Tortoise Light, and would rather just play that game. This isn't quite fair - while there are some resemblances to Hare & Tortoise (an excellent game!), there are significant differences. It is shorter and simpler, no doubt of that, but that can be a good thing in certain moods and time available to play.

Summing Up

A fine, fun filler game. Easy to play in half an hour (a little longer with four or five players), it works well from two to five players. It's inexpensive, reasonably attractive, and doesn't take up much shelf space. I like it.

Back to SOS' Gameviews
Back to Steffan O'Sullivan's Home Page